Stream On: That girl, before ‘That Girl’—‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’

By on April 6, 2023

Before Ann Marie hit the big city from a small town, Holly Golightly made it her own in Truman Capote’s 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The story, though, was more about the teller (who came to resemble Holly himself) and a girl who, like the city they both came to, presented a glamorous face to the world. Native New Yorker George Axelrod (The Manchurian Candidate) and Hollywood’s Blake Edwards (who came there from Oklahoma) put their own spin on it for a 1961 romantic comedy.


/Amazon /Streaming /Trailer /1961 /🍅88%🍿91% /NR

Like Capote’s jewel of a story (“I took a taxi in a downpour of October rain, and on my way I even thought she might be there, that I would see Holly again,”), Edwards’ film is a “wholly captivating flight into fancy” (The New York Times), its box-office performance perhaps helped by its resolution, 180 degrees away from the novel’s, although both are great—and both, reflections on their creators.

“You’re wrong. She is a phony. But on the other hand you’re right. She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes.” (O.J. Berman, actor’s agent, from the book)

Into a cavernous pre-dawn grey Manhattan street, shot in wide angle, comes a bright yellow taxicab that discharges an elegant young lady in black evening-wear. Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) walks up to one of the windows at Tiffany & Co., the luxury jewelry and specialty retailer, takes a coffee and a danish from a paper bag and eats as she wanders from window to window.

As the sun comes up she has wandered to her brownstone fifteen blocks away in an upper east side neighborhood. She passes a parked sedan, whose dozing driver awakens and runs after her as she climbs the steps to it. Keyless, she mashes an apartment buzzer. Her landlord, Mister Yunioshi (Mickey Rooney in an awful but funny turn) begrudgingly buzzes her in. “Miss Golightly! I protest!”

Holly looks up the stairs. “Oh, darling, I am sorry, but I lost my key!”

“That was two weeks ago!”

She affectionately brushes off her date from last night, the sedan guy (“I worship you, Mister Arbuck. Good night, Mister Arbuck!), and closes her apartment door in his face.

Lovely Holly Golightly effortlessly “gets over” almost anything and anyone she wants to. She meets Paul Varjak (the first-person narrator of the novel, here played by George Peppard), when he buzzes her apartment, the next morning. Dead to the world, she’s awakened by her cat (Orangey Minerva, Rhubarb, in an important role) which is annoyed by the buzzing. “Poor old cat. Poor slob. Poor slob without a name. The way I look at it I don’t have the right to give him one. We don’t belong to each other, we just took up by the river one day. I don’t even want to own anything until I can find a place where me and things go together. I’m not sure where that is, but I know what it’s like. It’s like Tiffany’s.”

Paul is new to the apartment house, and the town, and the landlord sent him only his apartment key, not the downstairs key. He says, “Tiffany’s? You mean the jewelry store?”

“That’s right. I’m crazy about Tiffany’s…. Nothing very bad could happen to you there.”

Thus begins Paul Varjak’s education about a fascinating and chaotic young woman in a fascinating and chaotic city, the stuff of dreams, but worth living with, at least once in a lifetime—for as long as it lasts, anyway.

Truman Capote wanted to see Marilyn Monroe in the part of Holly and may even have been thinking of her when he wrote the novella, but she turned it down. When Hepburn was cast instead of Monroe, Capote remarked: “Paramount double-crossed me in every way and cast Audrey.” I beg to differ: having read the book, it’s easy to picture Audrey Hepburn in the role. She has a weightlessness that I honestly never saw in Marilyn, as great as she was. She might have handled the role, but Hepburn owned it. And while George Peppard is not the Paul Varjak of the book (Truman Capote was), it works. Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies) is near perfect as a link to Holly’s mysterious past.

The movie is tolerably close to the book, until it isn’t—there’s a bright line—but economically tells the same story up to a point, when it veers away at the last. Still, it’s all good, a Blake Edwards party; it definitely has its own brilliant moments (Orangey Minerva single-handedly validates Edwards’ ending), and there’s more than one universe, right?

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

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